How Flavor Works: The Science of Taste and Aroma by Nak-Eon Choi, Jung H. Han

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How Flavor Works: The Science of Taste and Aroma

Nak-Eon Choi, Jung H. Han


Taste is the number one driving force in the decision to purchase a food product and food consumption is the most critical function for living organisms to obtain the energy and resources essential to their vitality. Flavor and aroma are therefore universally important concepts: intrinsic to human well-being and pleasure, and of huge significance for the multi-trillion dollar global food business.

How Flavor Works: the Science of Taste and Aroma offers a fascinating and accessible primer on the concepts of flavor science for all who have an interest in food and related topics. Professionals and students of food science and technology who do not already specialize in flavor science will find it a valuable reference on a topic crucial to how consumers perceive and enjoy food products. In this regard, it will also be of interest to product developers, marketers and food processors. Other readers with a professional (eg culinary and food service) or personal interest in food will also find the book interesting as it provides a user-friendly account of the mechanisms of flavor and aroma which will provide new insights into their craft.


Table of Contents

Preface xi

About the Authors xiii

1 What is Taste?

Four basic tastes, as proposed by Aristotle

Taste is complex

Most food ingredients are tasteless, odorless, and colorless

Variations in odor during fermentation and aging due to changes in molecular weight

2% is not a small amount

2 The Origins of Taste: Why do we Taste?

Sweetness is for identifying energy sources (Carbohydrates)

Umami is a tool used to search for proteins

Carbohydrates are for sweetness, proteins are for umami, but what are lipids for?

Saltiness: the ocean was the source of all life

The role of salt in cooking is not merely to provide saltiness

The contrast effect

The suppression effect

Acidity monitors the biological metabolism

Bitterness: if it’s bitter, spit it out!

Some people enjoy bitter tastes

The reason we consume caffeine despite its bitterness

The olfactory sense is the dominant sensory perception of animals

The search for food

Avoid danger!

Know who it is!

Find a mate!


3 Taste is General Science

Taste improves with harmonized combinations

The taste of meals = saltiness + umami + savory flavor

The taste of dessert (and fruit) = sweetness + sourness + sweet odor

Tastes influence odors

Food has to be dissolved for us to taste and chewed to enhance the taste

The main ingredients influence taste and odor

Sound has an influence on taste

Visuals, colors, and food styles

Why does color exist?

The basic structure of pigment: why are there no naturally blue foods?

Perception varies with individual differences and conditions

Differences due to age and sex

Individual variation is also significant

Differences due to race and history

The preference for smells is constantly changing


4 How do we Smell Odors?

Olfactory receptors are G-protein coupled receptors

G-Receptors differentiate isomers, resulting in different odors

G-Receptors perceive multiple chemical substances

G-Receptors work simply as on/off switches

Depending on the binding affinity to receptors, similar molecules can be recognized as completely different tastes and odors

The broad spectrum of the olfactory sense

The transduction of sensory signals

Olfactory fatigue is also a functional activity for life

The recognition and integration of perceptions

Parts of the brain

Continuous circulations in the loop

G-Receptors can perceive light

Understanding G-receptors can provide many answers

Pheromones are not mysterious substances


5 What Creates Smell?

Odorous molecules are mainly created by plants

Why do plants produce aroma compounds?

Attracting bacteria, insects, and animals

As a defensive mechanism

Attacking tools

Coincidental byproducts

Animals generally smell odorants, not produce them

Animal-origin raw materials

Unconditional surrender to pheromones

Is body odor a coincidental byproduct?

Most flavors that we enjoy are created by cooking

Flavor production by enzymatic or microbial fermentations

Flavor production by heat processes

Flavor production by pyrolysis: smoke flavor

Compound flavor: creation of new flavors by mixing various odors


6 Technological Advancements Brought about by the Love of Flavors

Why do people combine flavors?

How many flavors are there in the world and how many ingredients are required to make all of these flavors?

How many odorous chemicals are needed to create a tomato flavor?

Perfumers and flavorists create flavors

Olfactory training: flavorists must first distinguish odorous chemicals before creating compound flavors

Compounding flavors: aromas are completed through imagination

To become a perfumer, a heavy smoking habit and age do not matter

The important factor is harmony

Applications of compound flavors

Types of odorants

Synthetic flavors versus natural flavors: which is safer?

Advantages and limitations of natural flavors

Advantages and limitations of compound flavors


7 How Flavors Influence us

Brain development began with the olfactory sense

The human olfactory sense is less sensitive and inarticulate

Humans’ sense of smell has degenerated greatly

Proust phenomenon: odor-evoked autobiographical memory

Sensorial preference changes destinies

Do silkworms only eat mulberry leaves?

Humans live with smells

Stage of development

What happens if you can no longer feel taste or smell?

Are humans free from pheromones

The healing power of aromas




Is geosmin foul or pleasant?

Multiple chemical sensitivity (mcs): there are people who are really intolerant to odorous chemicals


8 Taste is Regulated by Flavor, and Flavor is Regulated by the Brain

The sense of smell is directly connected to the imbic system, in other words, to survival and emotion

Neuroplasticity in the brain

Is synesthesia a malfunction or a blessing?

Taste is a typical phenomenon of synesthesia and neuroplasticity

Orbitofrontal cortex: where sight, taste, smell, and touch meet

Taste is a part of pleasure, and that pleasure becomes a part of taste

Experience affects taste: familiar foods are preferred

The feeling of disgust can be acquired through learning

Taste is affected by temperature

Price: expectation affects the taste

Prejudices are effective at distorting perceived senses

Even the data from an expert research firm cannot promise success in sales

Sensorial perception is an illusion

Taste and aroma do not exist

A good product image makes it taste better


9 The Future of Taste and Aroma

Raw ingredient resources gradually become simplified and their original aromas disappear

More scientific technologies will be incorporated into the culinary arts

What is the difference between cooking and the processing of foods?

Aroma-releasing television or movies

Is the taste of processed foods inferior to that of natural foods?

Is it true that obsessions with flavors and seasonings have decreased?

Do technological developments of taste modifications induce obesity or become a key solution to the problem?

Technology of satiety: technology of cognitive science for taste and olfactory senses is the technology of the future

Satiety control

The era of supernormal stimuli


10 Concluding Remarks





Author Information

Nak-Eon Choi is Research Director at Sias Co, Ltd, Seoul, South Korea

Jung H. Han, PhD CFS is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at
the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, USA

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